Vision Q&A: Charlex

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For effects artists at New York's Charlex, March Madness meant more than a bracket and gratuitous cheerleader shots. It was a way of life, as they performed the feat of removing elements from existing basketball footage to make three visually impressive and entertaining spots for DirecTV via BBDO/N.Y.-"No Ball," "No Basket," and "No Team," in which artists erased the offensive team, showing only shuffling defensemen. VFX Supervisor and Charlex principal Alex Weil gives us the inside scoop.

C: How did you remove elements from the frame?

I guess the polite way to describe the technique is "creative retouching." Inside the walls of Charlex we refer to it as "brute force," because in the end that's what it comes down to-using every trick in the book until we're finally down to pushing around pixels with brute force. It's a bit of a stretch to describe it as a technique at all, since at the outset we really have no clear plan for how we're going to accomplish the effect. Just a group feeling that we can somehow get it done even if it means going light on the personal life for a while.

C: Is the footage real?

All the actions, reactions, fakes, camera movement, crowd action and ranting coaches are real. I don't think it would have been nearly as cool if we had shot a game recreation. I think it's a real brain-twister to look at. For me, every time I see normal game footage now it seems odd that there's a ball there.

C: What was the biggest challenge, and how did it play out?

The biggest challenge was the spot where we entirely removed the offensive team. This meant that in addition to replacing moving film footage like crowds and floors, we had to almost entirely recreate defensive players' bodies from scratch. Fortunately, our friends at BBDO were supportive through the whole process, even though it meant hundreds of hours of work for all of us-but it was worth it. NBC's Dateline did a segment on us. Our parents were very impressed.

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